The Brettish Empire


Chapter 4: The Blue Carbuncle

by Lisa Oldham

Do you:

Well, have I got a holiday present for you--The Blue Carbuncle, Granada's delightful adaptation of Conan Doyle's Christmas mystery. "This is a treasure trove, indeed," to quote Sherlock Holmes. It has suspense! It has humor! It has pathos! It has Holmes in his nightclothes! ;->

Here's the plot: Although it sounds like a nasty skin disorder, "The Blue Carbuncle" is actually an alluring azure gem with a tainted past, much like the Hope Diamond. The Carbuncle is shown in close-up under the opening credits with scenes of its violent history superimposed upon it.

As the story opens, the Carbuncle's dark legacy continues. A plumber, John Horner, is arrested for stealing the jewel from the Countess Morcar's suite at the Hotel Cosmopolitan. Horner proclaims his innocence and denies having the gem. Things look bleak, though--not only does Horner have a shady past, but all the circumstantial evidence points to him. And, he's being bullied by hot-tempered Inspector Bradstreet, who's under pressure to solve the case.

Meanwhile, a sleepy Sherlock Holmes has an early morning visitor.

"It's Commissionaire Peterson!" Mrs. Hudson informs him.

"Oh, please, go away," Holmes groans.

But, duty (and the need for nicotine) prevails. Holmes dashes into the sitting room in his dressing gown. After hastily grabbing a match, he wryly greets the commissionaire, who has two unusual items for Holmes' perusal.

"Peterson! Put down your goose...and your hat."

Actually, neither the moribund goose (with a tag reading "For Mrs. Henry Baker") nor the battered hat belong to Peterson. He explains that they were dropped by an elderly man who was being harassed by drunken rowdies. Peterson tried to help him, but the man fled in panic after accidentally breaking a shop window.

Holmes promises to try to reunite the hat with Mr. Henry Baker. However, he advises Peterson to keep the goose for his own Christmas feast. (In those pre-Frigidaire days, it would spoil before Baker could claim it.)

Later, Dr. Watson arrives, bearing gifts. He reads an account of the Blue Carbuncle's theft and Horner's arrest to Holmes from the newspaper, but the detective is preoccupied with Henry Baker's hat. He invites Watson to deduce clues from the chapeau: "You know my methods."

Watson sees the initials "HB" and nothing more.

Holmes, however, surmises everything from the owner's age to his marital woes with one glance at the hat. Watson is highly skeptical of Holmes' deductions. Holmes patiently explains each one to the doctor.

Watson concedes, "Well, it's all very ingenious..."

Suddenly, Commissionaire Peterson bursts into the room.

"Mr. Holmes--it's the goose, Mr. Holmes!"

"Has it come back to life and flapped off through the kitchen window?" Holmes asks.

Uh, no, something really amazing happened--the dead bird coughed up the Blue Carbuncle!

Now, how on earth did the Countess Morcar's gem get inside Henry Baker's goose?

Holmes aims to find out. He composes a "found" ad to run in all the papers. He even purchases a new goose for Henry Baker.

But, what about the Carbuncle?

"I'll keep it," Holmes tells Watson. "In my museum."

Having seen Holmes' ad, Henry Baker finds his way to 221-B Baker Street on Christmas Eve. He's happy to retrieve his hat, and even happier to receive his replacement goose.

"Fowl fancier" Holmes asks Baker where he got the original bird. Baker not only reveals where the bird came from (the Alpha Inn's "goose club"), but manages to confirm every one of Holmes' deductions!

However, Holmes realizes that Baker knows nothing of the Blue Carbuncle or how it got into the goose, and dismisses him. Holmes then decides a visit to the Alpha pub is in order.

He alerts Watson, "We shall turn dinner into supper and follow up this clue while it is still hot!"

"Which is more than the supper will be!" Mrs. Hudson tartly retorts as the determined pair departs.

The owner of the Alpha explains to Holmes that the birds in his Christmas "goose club" came from a dealer in Covent Garden.

Watson is just about to quaff a pint when Holmes darts out of the pub.

"We must follow this clue to the bitter end!" the detective insists.

"Extremely bitter," mutters Watson, shivering in the cold.

"We'll turn our faces to the south!" Holmes chides as they march away.

At Covent Garden, Holmes finds the goose dealer, Breckinridge, and quizzes him about the geese he sold to the Alpha Inn.

The feisty Breckenridge is uncooperative. It seems others have inquired about the geese, and he refuses to answer any more questions about them.

Holmes tricks Breckinridge into letting the goose out of the bag. The detective pretends to have wagered Watson that the Alpha's geese were country-bred.

Breckinridge takes the bait. He trumpets that the birds were town-bred and even produces the ledger to prove it, thus providing Holmes with the information he needs. (What's more, Breckinridge makes Holmes ante up!)

As Holmes and Watson walk away, they spy a bug-eyed little man anxiously asking Breckinridge about the Alpha Inn geese. Once more, Breckinridge refuses to cooperate, even though the man keeps insisting that one of the geese was his.

Holmes and Watson follow the man as he leaves Breckinridge's stall. He sees them, and tries to escape, but they corner him. Holmes explains that they have found his goose, and invites him to Baker Street to claim it.

At Baker Street, things get off to a rocky start when the man gives Holmes an alias. Holmes knows the truth, though. "John Robinson" is actually James Ryder, who just happens to be an attendant at the Cosmopolitan Hotel.

"Your goose came here," Holmes tells Ryder. "It laid an egg--after it was dead! It was the bonniest, brightest little blue egg you have ever seen. I have it!"

Holmes flashes the "egg" before Ryder.

"The game's up!" the detective cries.

Ryder crumbles. He claims that the Countess Morcar's maid, Catherine Cusack, put him up to the theft of the Blue Carbuncle. Ryder knew that John Horner had a criminal record, so he set him up to take the rap.

Ryder tearfully grovels for leniency, but Holmes is disgusted by Ryder's cowardice. Finally, the remorseful robber reveals how the gem got inside the bird. It was a comedy of errors involving Ryder's sister, twin geese, and an ill-timed poultry delivery to Covent Garden.

Holmes has heard enough. Surprisingly, he takes pity on Ryder and lets the sniveling thief go free.

Watson is astonished.

"I'm not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies!" Holmes snaps.

He explains, "Maybe I'm commuting a felony, but saving a soul. Send [Ryder] to jail now, you make him a jailbird for life."

"After all, this is the season for forgiveness," Holmes adds.

Midnight arrives, and so does Christmas. Holmes and Watson exchange yuletide greetings and sit down to supper.

Watson stops.

"Just a minute, Holmes. I cannot contemplate eating while Horner is still in remand. Do you suppose that Inspector Bradstreet or one of his colleagues might still be at their desks?"

"Quite right, Watson..."

The Blue Carbuncle concludes with John Horner being freed into the arms of his loving wife and children.

But, what became of the Blue Carbuncle? Did Holmes keep it? Did he surrender it to the police to free Horner? Was it returned to the Countess? Did it cause more bad luck? It remains a mystery...

It's no mystery, however, why Granada's The Blue Carbuncle is so enjoyable:

And, of course, there's Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. From the first glimpse of his heavy-lidded Holmes in a delicious state of dishabille, to the detective's unexpected show of mercy to the undeserving Ryder, Jeremy gives a gem of a performance. His Holmes' possesses a logic as cold and brilliant as a diamond, but this saturnine sleuth also has a deep understanding of human nature. Jeremy explores all facets of Holmes' complex nature with skill and style. It's mind-boggling to remember that JB was never rewarded with any acting awards for his turn as Holmes. But, we were rewarded with his wonderful portrayals (thank goodness for video tape...)

Now, in this "season of forgiveness," let us remember the One who lived and died to make forgiveness possible:

"....and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21, KJV)

I wish you all a bright and blessed holiday season, and a wonderful New Year!

NEXT: The Musgrave Ritual

Originally published: December 5, 1998
Last updated: July 22, 2000

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"The Brettish Empire"/"TBE" Copyright Lisa L. Oldham.